Both up-and-coming comedians and standup veterans will have the chance to perform and be rated by a live audience during the Summer "Breakout" Showcase, starting next Thursday, July 26.
For more than 20 years, Laffs Comedy Caffé has given comedians the opportunity to get onstage and try out material in a real standup setting. Mark Volner, producer of ttowntv.com and a creator of the showcase, has performed at Laffs himself, and that led to the idea for the showcase.
"I thought it'd be a good idea to give the comics more experience, so I pitched it to the club, and they liked it," said Volner, who has been a comedian for eight years. "I just asked them if I could try some new project to get more word out about the club and the open-mic."
The Summer "Breakout" Showcase gives performers feedback from the audience and a chance to be promoted on ttowntv.com, a website that covers goings-on in the Tucson area. Over the course of three to four weeks, four comedians will perform each Thursday.
The top five comedians will participate in a final showdown, during which the audience will serve as judge. The top three comedians will be featured in a promotional video for open-mic nights at Laffs and will get a guest spot during a professional show at Laffs.
Andrew Horneman, 25, has been doing standup for just more than a year.
"I think I'm in it for life, for the long haul. It's scary. I feel like I'm in a committed relationship and did my vows or something," Horneman said. "I've talked to comics and headliners who've been doing it for 15 years, and they love it. To make people laugh is an outlet. It's an addiction. ... A lot of comics have that, and I don't see myself stopping."
With inspiration from greats ranging from Wanda Sykes to George Carlin, Horneman said he is excited about the experience the showcase will give him. He said his style of comedy is somewhat autobiographical.
"I like to say it's just my experience of the world sprinkled with gay, for the most part. There are a couple of bits that I have that have nothing to do with being gay; they're just my interactions with people," he said.
Walt Maxam, 64, on the other hand, has been a professional comedian for 12 years, and has performed several times at the Laffs in both Tucson and Albuquerque, N.M. He's also performed in San Diego, Colorado and California, and at several military benefits. He's even entertained troops in Iraq.
Maxam said he always had an interest in comedy, but didn't act on it until inspiration hit after attending a veterans' conference. He said he received an inspirational message from a keynote address.
"'If you wanna do something, if you at least attempt it, it's a success.' So I went onstage for the first time three months later," Maxam said.
His material is based around who he is and what he's done in his life, from being a veteran to working at Quail Run Elementary School in the Marana Unified School District.
"It's observational comedy on my life. I probably focus more on the old person being married a long time, and how old people relate to technology, and stuff like that," he said.
For Maxam, this showcase offers him a chance to help comedians, like Horneman, who are not as experienced. Maxam said he is there as one of the featured comics, anchoring the show with experience and tenure. For him, it's not a competition, but just another chance to get onstage.